The Secrets I Hid in My Pocket From the Woman Who Washed My Jeans
I was never good at being bad.
I’m the girl who…
skipped school only to come home before my parents went to work,
mixed Hennessy and Kool-Aid to make a high school cocktail that has kept me from brown liquor ever since,
and absentmindedly kept notes of sexual conquests in my jean pocket for my mother to find while doing my laundry.
Oh, my laundry was dirty. It was filled with…
nasty notes that included
dirty dialogue that included
funky requests for intimacy no wash cycle could remove.
Most mothers are tasked with this laundry assignment, but Black mothers get an unwanted jumpstart from daughters whose pubescent bodies are so hypersexualized, the world sees us as far older than our actual years.
At fourteen, I was wearing a D cup. And while some of my white friends were right there with me, my body was associated with music video vixens, while they were still seen as girls.
And so my mother, our mothers, were responsible for managing this …
…without detergent, but a determination to reach deeper into our pockets and into our minds to reach us.
I was holding my questions, confusion and conflict about sex in my back pocket via forgotten notes passed between classmates who were just as naïve as me. And my mother was reading those notes and using them as a window into my life to protect me, but more importantly, to empower me. Turns out the random sex tips she was giving me in high school weren’t random at all. She was responding to letters I didn’t even realize I was sending.
I was in college when my mother finally told me about what she did. My secrets weren’t so secret after all. She had taken them from my pocket to wash me with advice. This revelation opened the communication line between us for transparent and transformative conversations about sex and relationships.
Later on my grandmother and I would begin to have a similar dialogue. Like the conversations with my mother, she shared her experiences with sex and love. And though her and my grandfather got together during World War II, she showed me the battles in relationships haven’t changed, and her eighty years of experience are still relevant today.
While their tactics were different, using laundry as an agent to provide me with sexual care remained the same between my mother and grandmother.
I remember the day I was old enough to be embarrassed about my grandmother hanging my panties on the line outside for everyone in the housing project my mother grew up in to see. It was the same summer my grandmother drew a subliminal line in the courtyard that set boundaries for where I could travel. There were cute boys who lived on the other side of the line, boys she feared would introduce me to a world I was wasn’t quite ready for, so she created a wall.
I imagine my grandmother used the same tactic with my mom, using hanging the laundry to dry as an excuse to watch my mom around the neighborhood when she was a teen. In turn, my mother used laundry as a window into my actions through notes left in my pocket.
The pockets of daughters, whether notes of the past or cell phones of today, don’t have zippers to protect their innocence. But the hems of mothers offer wide shields of defense for their daughters. Shields built from experience that can open up to phenomenal portals of personal testimony when it comes to sexual exploration.
Too often, we fail to see our elders as sexual beings with their own rich experiences and desires. But if we did, we could leverage these lessons from our mothers, grandmothers and aunties to improve our sexual care.
My mother gave me so much with what was left unsaid. She washed my jeans, and then washed me with advice that would keep me from combusting from the hot desires of youth.
This laundry exchange wasn’t easy for either of us; for me receiving the notes, or my mother having to read them. But I often wonder what would’ve happened if I’d just had a conversation with my mother and told her what was going on. I could’ve saved my mom some worry and I definitely could have saved myself some tears.
But these experiences were also formative parts of the cycle of my life. Those notes may have hung me out to dry from time to time, but they and the events from my childhood are so tightly folded into the woman I have become.
And as that woman looking back at that time and thinking about those jeans, I realize…
My laundry wasn’t dirty.
It was just full of trials that helped me grow and after coming to this realization, I have never felt so clean.